Staff & Student News

Curator Chapurukha Kusimba and Adjunct Associate Curator Sloan Williams (both Anthropology) have received a grant of $202,560 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The grant will enable Chap, Sloan and two graduate students from UIC to continue their interdisciplinary research in East Africa.  The project integrates the humanities, social, earth, and biological sciences into one complementary program with the overall goal of understanding, and placing in proper context, the ways and means in which the peoples of the East African coast organized themselves to create one of the most enduring African urban cultures; one that integrated the best of Indian Ocean interaction spheres.  This study will contribute a better understanding of (1) biological and cultural origins of the ancient coastal inhabitants and (2) shed more light on the role of immigration, technology and biological transfers in shaping and restructuring Swahili society.  The project’s results will be widely distributed in US public schools, colleges, and universities with the goal of improving teaching standards to assist the professional development of teachers about African history and culture.

In late August, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds & Mammals) returned to Madagascar, where he will be spending the next ten months.  Over the course of this period Steve will conduct fieldwork at several different sites on Madagascar, as well as in the Comoro and Mascarene islands.  Also, he will be working closely with colleagues and students in the Malagasy University system and at Association Vahatra to help advance on different research projects and student theses.  Steve will depart from Madagascar on September 4 for a trip to La Réunion to serve as a jury member for a HDR (Habilitation à diriger des Recherches) thesis of a former student, Dr. Achille Raselimanana, who is now Professor at l'Université d'Antananarivo and President of the Association Vahatra.  The HDR is the highest diploma within the French university system in the sciences.  The week thereafter, Steve has two Master’s (DEA) and one Ph.D. student presenting in Antananarivo and then off to the field.

Research Associate Lindsay Zanno (Geology) has just started in a tenure track position as Assistant Professor of Anatomy at University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, WI.  Lindsay has spent the last three years in the Geology Department first as a Meeker Postdoctoral Fellow, and then as a Bucksbaum Young Scientist.  Collections & Research wishes Lindsay best of luck in her new position and are happy that she will remain associated with the Geology Department and continue to be a part of the Museum community.

The Botany Department welcomed back Suzana Alcantara, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.  Suzana has visited the Museum twice previously to work on projects involving the trumpet-vine family Bignoniaceae with Associate Curator Rick Ree.  On this visit, from September 1–October 15, she will work in the Pritzker Lab, sequencing DNA for a phylogenetic study of Velloziaceae—a pantropical family with most species diversity in South America and Africa, with a single unusual species in the Hengduan Mountains of China.

Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany) participated in an “Ideas Lab” hosted by the National Science Foundation, August 18–22, in Lake Placid, NY.   The theme of the meeting was a new program solicitation, “AVAToL: Assembling, Visualizing, and Analyzing the Tree of Life.”  Ideas Labs are a new kind of NSF event that are intended to cultivate innovative collaborative research proposals through facilitated brainstorming.  Participation (and subsequent proposal submission) is by invitation only, after a vetting process that involves, among other things, analysis of the applications by organizational psychologists.

Research & Publications

 John Weinstein.Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) is co-author on the paper titled “Supernova Shock-wave-induced Co-Formation of Glassy Carbon and Nanodiamond” published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.  The paper describes the discovery that meteoritic nanodiamonds (see photo) are always associated with glassy carbon.  This led the authors, led by Rhonda Stroud of the Naval Research Laboratory, to a new hypothesis on how the nanodiamonds might have formed: Violent shockwaves from supernovae, exploding massive stars, transformed abundant organic interstellar matter into diamonds and glassy carbon.  These then got incorporated into the solar nebula from which asteroids, the meteorite parent bodies, formed.  This discovery was only possible thanks to the use of a new kind of super-high resolution electron microscope that can image individual atoms.  This state-of-the-art instrument is located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.  The Allende nanodiamond acid residue used in this study comes from a Field Museum meteorite specimen and was isolated at the University of Chicago in the 1980s.  Philipp used this sample and prepared it for this study as the first sample coming out of the new labs of The Field Museum’s Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies. 

In late August, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds & Mammals) published two papers.  The first was co-authored with Hery Rakotondravony in Herpetological Conservation and Biology and entitled “Rapid herpetological surveys within five isolated forests on sedimentary rock in western Madagascar.”  The paper reports on the local reptile and amphibian communities in five isolated and very poorly known massifs in the dry forests of the island.  Between the five sites, 70 species were recorded (55 reptiles and 15 amphibians) of which 97% are endemic to Madagascar.

The second paper appeared in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, with the first-author being Beza Ramasindrazana, a Ph.D. student at the University of Antananarivo who works closely with Steve.  Also joining the project were Corrie Shoeman from The University of Zwa-Zula Natal and Belinda Appleton from the University of Melbourne.  The paper, entitled “Identification of cryptic species of Miniopterus bats (Chiroptera: Miniopteridae) from Madagascar and the Comoros using bioacoustics overlaid on molecular genetic and morphological characters” helps put together a dictionary of vocalizations of different Miniopterus species and using this information to assess differences in size and phylogenetic history in sympatric and allopatric species.

Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) welcomed Brazilian Ph.D. student Julia Almeida for a four-month visit to the FMNH on August 25.  Julia is a Ph.D. student at the Universidade de São Paulo and the Museu de Zoologia (MZUSP) in São Paulo, Brazil where she is working on the taxonomy and evolutionary relationships among mydas flies of the subfamily Mydinae.  Among the currently 85 species of Mydinae, which are restricted to the New World and found from southern Canada to northern Argentina, is the largest known fly named Gauromydas heros (Perty, 1833) from southern Brazil.  Julia is visiting the FMNH to study Mydinae specimens from the Museum’s collection and others on loan to Torsten from natural history museums worldwide.  Julia will also gather DNA data in the Pritzker Laboratory for a molecular study of the evolutionary relationships of Mydinae.  She will use Chicago as a base to visit other North American museum collections this autumn.  These collection visits and the supplies in the Pritzker lab are funded by Torsten’s NSF REVSYS grant, to which Julia’s project is tightly linked.


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